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Thread: Alpha Dogs, Dominant Dogs, Bus Driving Dogs?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2009

    Default Alpha Dogs, Dominant Dogs, Bus Driving Dogs?

    Thought I'd have a new thread for this since doglifetraining wanted to divert the topic of TOT - with a new subject. I agree and disagree with DLT's ideas.

    It has also been proven that dogs (not wolves, and after all thats the animal we live with) do not live in packs, they come together to mate and sometimes to hang out. They dont raise their young together in family structures, nor do they hunt- dogs are mainly scavengers, you can see this in many third world countries (and even in our own dogs).
    Would be handy if you posted a relevant link. The alpha theory of wolf packs is fact mostly bunk too, including the alpha roll thing.

    In a wolf pack - there is usually a lead female, but she is not always at the front of the pack. Wolves are also mainly scavangers, but they will hunt alone for small critters like mice and together for bigger critters. Dogs roam in packs where there are sufficient resources (food and shelter) but alone when there is not. Eg the solo dingo in the middle of the Great Victoria Desert, and packs of dingos at popular (well resourced) tourist spots like Uluru, Emu (first australian A-bomb detination camp site), and Fraser Island.

    Dogs and wolves both hunt. I have watched an ACD hunt and kill a rat. I have watched two dogs hunt and kill a cat one time, and a possum another time. I really thought both critters would have been smart enough to stay out of reach but they weren't and it was all over extremely quickly.

    Dogs are directly descended from the Grey Wolf. They aren't all that different in behaviour. Grey Wolves also run solo where there is insufficient resources to run in a pack.

    So why do we keep advocating such roles as 'alpha'? Maybe it's easy to blame many problems on dominance- jumping, humping, snatching food. When instead it could be- excitement, displacement behaviour, and hunger.
    When it could be lack of appropriate training by the owner? Or lack of socialisation with litter mates (removed too young) or other dogs (blame the owner)? Or just fun (self reinforcing).

    I may have opened a can of worms by posting this but I think, as professionals, it is our job to be well informed of current research and change our way of thinking (i used to use dominance theory) to help our clients and their dogs. If you would like to know more here are a couple of articles you may want to read.....
    Worms indeed. You posted your thought in an inappropriate place. The Alpha Dominance stuff might be misplaced but even as you said the system of TOT works well to teach the dog appropriate behaviour. I skipped the tie the dog to the post step (I used other methods to achieve good tie up and crating), but I got the most excellent sit stay and down stay and recall from using this method. My dog does down stay at club - and wags her tail the whole time. She's thinking of dinner.

    About the bus driving dog. It is important, when you have a dog in the house that she's not the one making all the decisions, ie driving the bus. It's ok to play with the dog when you want, and feed the dog when and what you want, and walk the dog when you want, and ignore the dog when you want. Trouble starts when people are shaped by the dog into being the dog's personal slave. Dog brings you the ball, you go out and play fetch with the dog. Dog does not leave you alone when you want to read your favourite internet forum. Etc.

  2. #2


    It seems as though we are pretty much on the same page, as what you wrote in your reply was very much in line with what I think.

    I did post some relevant links, two in fact....

    Dominance and Your Dog |

    Dominance and The Wolf |

    ....and within these are some other links to research findings within the area of dominance and dog training. Thanks for your link, I read it with interest.

    Absolutely, the TOT method would work, as it is based on the science of conditioning through positive reinforcement- something that has nothing to do with dominance. I think bringing the terms 'dominance' and 'alpha' in to such training muddies the waters, and gives people a right to bully their dogs. It sets up an adversarial environment, where there is a winner and a looser. Preoccupation with winning would be a stressful way to maintain a relationship, and is not necessary when you are using a positive conditioning method.

    About the bus driving dog....
    I guess my dog does drive the bus sometimes, but I dont mind, I never have.
    Behaviours become problems when they cause tension in the home and/or place people or animals at risk of harm. If the fore mentioned is not happening, I would never impose rules on a family.

    I make no apology for posting my thought, this is a dog training forum, and we must move on from old methods and rhetoric. What would happen if Medicine was still practiced exactly the same way as it was 50 years ago? Dog trainers are professionals, and as professionals, we have a responsibility to offer our clients the most up to date information.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2009


    Operant and Classical conditioning are not very new. They'd be at least 50 years old too. Skinner started doing his thing in the mid 1930's. Pavlov was doing his thing before 1900.

    And us dog trainers who use this information are way ahead of most horse trainers.

    I agree we both think that alpha and dominance theory - made popular by Cesar Milan is not good science or dog training practice. As best I can tell Cesar gets results with operant conditioning, and not just the rewards based stuff, and he gets away with it because his timing is perfect in a way a lot of amateurs like me cannot match, even if we (I) have a reasonable handle on doggy body language. I'm just not that co-ordinated.

    You really didn't address the fact that I disagreed with the first idea that I quoted from your other post. About Wolves hunting and dogs being scavengers. I think this is fundamentally wrong. I've seen examples personally that show otherwise, so disproving that theory. Ie it is not proven at all.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Southern NSW


    Ok........ I am going to put my head on the chopping block here, or at least I will get shot down.

    I am a positive Reinforcement trainer and negative Punishment. I love clicker training and do all of these things with most of my dogs. the operative word being most.

    I do newfie Rescue, they have all been over 50kg, even up to 65kg and I get the ones that no-one else wants and that according to one behaviourist Vet should be PTS.

    I do use the "I am Alpha" with these rescues and one of them has even had the Alpha roll (Our girl Annabelle had one of those), after she tried to kill our other dog. I consider my timing good. because we also train horses and timing is everything in horse training.

    We both train our dogs and I will NEVER ignore her aggression and I will use Positive Punishment when it happens. And I will not try to ignore or distract her.

    That said we initially did a lot of desensitisation at great distances and getting closer and closer, which were all done with her not getting to her aggressive moment. She was also counter conditioned "leave it" has a definite punisher effect on her...Annabelle is now quite friendly and if a dog does not go at her aggressively or if she thinks someone or another dog is attacked she is fine. She will go to bat for a person or other dog, which I prefer not to happen and stop
    Annabelle would have been PTS if not for the way we trained her. She went through the training which was done by experts (vet behaviourist) and it was not effective, she tried to bite the vet. Giving her treats and rewards had a bad effect on her
    I will always be grateful to the Behaviourist/trainer who helped us and who uses very similar training methods to Cesar Milan. He also has amazing timing and was a good teacher.
    Annabelle now ids trained with treats and rewards during our obedience training and any other training.
    My dogs are also a pack, I need control....We have four dogs of which my smallest is 35kg and the largest 70kg. Hubby and I have control over our pack. My youngest newfie has only had R+ and P- and the same for our new newfie Rescue, who is very timid.
    I think we as dog trainers/owners should keep an open mind and keep everything in mind when we deal with dogs. It all depends as to what they were bred for and how they had to survive in a previous life (if they were Rescues).
    Newfies will hunt....I have seen our dogs hunt rats and mice and they do it as a pack.
    They will also use a team effort to get the wild ducks of the dam.
    Our dogs also fish and are able to catch trout in shallow water. I use a training method that I think suites a dog and their situation.
    I would always use Positive reinforcement for any puppy I deal with.
    I do not live in the world of no dogs on our furniture, you only have to visit our place. But if we say off, they get off. I also let my dogs out of the door first if the door opens inward....because it is easier. If I say "wait", mine will wait. i also never eat before my dogs, gosh that is way too early for us. but I can take their dish away or take something out of their mouth that they should not have. I have never had a dog of mine growl at me, or bitten me.
    So I live with my ever changing pack and I observe. We used to have three girls and we got Tobias last September. It was amazing how our pack order changed. he was a passive assertive dog. And the girls were instantly calmer when he was around. Sadly he passed away due to cancer in December. So Lukey came into our world and he too is a passive leader. Annabelle can get rough with Tessa and Lukey will step in....just walk through, everything goes calm. Katy does her panicky run through to stop aggression in the pack, but Luke just moves in calmly. He does not use calming signs like katy, he heightens himself. Alpha status.......
    I spend hours watching my dogs play these games, it is a huge learning curve, better then any book.

    And I have seen a "hold down" by a Katy just recently. Katy loves puppies and has a great time playing. She is very kind and tolerant. One ACD puppy recently kept biting and nipping. Playfully, but just went on and on. Katy held him under her chest and using her front legs. She held him until he was quiet and she let him go. The puppy was quiet for a few moments after. It was also interesting to watch. The puppy did not take offense, but was quieter for at least ten minutes, when he went back to his happy self.
    Pets are forever

  5. #5


    There is a book written by a lady called Alexandra Semyonova called 'The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs'. In her book she describes that in order for dogs to be true hunters an exact sequence must be followed....


    She argues (and I agree) that dogs will only participate in some of these behaviours, such as stalking and killing and when they do kill it is not for the intent of dinner. This is where wolves are different- when they hunt they are doing so with the intent, and goal, to keep themselves alive, and will purposefully run through all of the above stages.

    Domestic dogs do not kill to eat, Semyonoya argues. She writes (and I agree) that if you dumped a domestic dog in the bush it would not survive (unless there was human rubbish in the area).

    Here are a couple of links to Semyonova's site if you want more info.....
    This is the home page....

    Nonlinear Dogs

    This is her research, very interesting, the only longitudinal study of domestic dogs in a domestic setting, which is exactly the kind of research we as dog trainers should be paying attention to, as it is specific to the species and setting we work with......

    The Social Organizatin of the Domestic Dog

    Pavlov and Skinner may have discovered conditioning in the early 1900's but it wasnt until the 1970's that it was applied to dog training. Even then, this method did not become popular until the 90's. So, it's still quite new.
    Last edited by doglifetraining; 05-29-2011 at 06:20 PM.

  6. #6


    If my poodle was dumped in the bush she would get fat.
    I have to control her mouse and bird intake as it is.

  7. #7


    Hey Newfsie,
    I'm so glad that you joined this, if anyone is going to be shot down it will be me for starting this I know it is a touchy subject.

    It seems like you are dealing with some pretty extreme dogs (and large ones!). These are the kind of dogs that I would never take on myself, i always refer to behaviourists for these kinds of dogs. Therefore, I cannot really comment on what methods work with these dogs, it's not my area of practice. However, i know the behaviourists I recommend have had success without the application of a dominance approach.

    However, what I am mainly arguing is that people (with little canine understanding and poor timing) are using the dominance method as a licence to bully their ordinary pet dogs for simply doing ordinary pet dog things or as a matter of course for basic training. In this situation I think it can be really damaging for a dog and the dog-owner relationship.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2009


    However, what I am mainly arguing is that people (with little canine understanding and poor timing) are using the dominance method as a licence to bully their ordinary pet dogs for simply doing ordinary pet dog things or as a matter of course for basic training. In this situation I think it can be really damaging for a dog and the dog-owner relationship.
    100% agree with this. I meet people every day who have trouble this way, I argue with my mum about it (she's been watching Cesar Milan but she should know better, she's done a psych degree which included rat training), and my neighbour and his dog suffer from this.

    I don't agree about the dogs not hunting and eating. There's some that do, and some that don't. My dog would probably live vegetarian in the bush or eat bugs or die as you said. Or if she got really hungry she might kill a possum. The dogs that killed the possum and the other dogs that killed the cat - the only traces left after was a lot of cat fur and an owner looking for his cat, and a flattened possum skin, no possum attached.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Southern NSW


    I fully agree that the dominance method should not be used on all dogs..that will always be how I think too. I am specifically speaking about dealing with troubled and mishandled dogs, not puppies. I will always use positive reinforcement on puppies such as Katy was.
    All I am trying to say is that there is a place for everything. Even though i can respect what Cesar Milan does and I know that he handles mainly the more difficult dogs. I hate his program, because i fear what people see and try to copy.
    As I said, Annabelle only ever had one Alpha roll after one incident. We treat her mainly positive reinforcement now. And she loves training.

    I cannot be like some though, I cannot say that because I am unable to train a certain way I will condemn a dog i am working with to death. I have met some Positive reinforcement Trainers who said also that they would never have taken her on and just let her be PTS. But if you now got to know Annabelle, you would realise what a waste that would have been.

    We have always taken on difficult and troubled Rescues and we will again in the future. As to using Behaviourist with only positive methods, well I have had experience with two of those, both qualified Vet Behaviourist. Both with different dogs, neither were helpful.

    However the behaviourist/trainer was willing to try and help. You will find if you have a really difficult dog, there are not many people willing to help. I have been in that position several times. been there done that.
    But I have learned lots and i now feel comfortable handling difficult dogs myself. And if I get a problem I cannot handle< I still have my Trainer/behaviourist to ask for help

    As to the hunting...........You only have to look at newfie history to know that they could be left and survive. maybe not the Australian bush at it is sparse.
    But hunting and fishing is natural to mine.....And if you watch them eat Raw fish, they are dissecting it. Gut first. They hunt, chase kill and dissect. And the youngest newf gave up her fish to the older in the pack. This is again just watching my dogs.

    They also know what they are not allowed to chase, the sheep are safe and so are our fowl.
    I have had my own dogs, since I left home since the late seventies. And I have always been interested in dog behaviour and psychology, just like I watch our horses, who are also a herd.
    Pets are forever

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    planet Earth


    Quote Originally Posted by Hyacinth View Post
    I don't agree about the dogs not hunting and eating.
    I do, as vast majority of dogs wouldn't. Some would. But the oportunity has to be right. As doglifetraining said (and cited Semyonova, with whom I also agree on majority of stuff) dogs do not have the behavior sequence used by predators. Yes, a dog will kill a mouse, a rodent, even a cat or a larger animal, but it will not go to hunt with intention "Huh, I need to go hunting because I'll starve otherwise". Dogs indeed are predominantly scavengers. A dog will "hunt" if it's presented by prey literally in front of his nose, then it will chase it and if lucky, it will kill it and if hungry it will eat it. Many dogs will kill for fun (or just by accident, when they grab the pray that's running away and bite it hard). Some dogs do have bits and pieces of behaviours found in "true predator" such as wolf. One of my dogs is nuts about digging and mice, I've seen him even swallow his "catch". He's not starving, he does it for fun. He does not go to hunt with purpose. I believe he might survive if dumped in the woods or wherever.
    On the other hand I've seen so many dogs rescued from being dumped in the woods and being skin and bone, on verge of death. Many of those dogs were breeds such as german terriers (I even adopted one ages ago, she was skin and bone), dumped by hunters and similar hunting breeds (viszlas, various gun dogs). If they are so capable of hunting - why in hell were they so skinny, starving and being miserable?
    I have also spent some time in Balkan's remote villages and have seen groups of dogs that roamed around and scavange on human waste. Around them kettle, sheep, chickens... Why didn't they just go for a sheep or a calf if they are such great hunters? I even asked people if they have problems with dogs, but apart from being annoyed by their presence and scared of rabies, they told me that they do not bother them or their cattle/animals, not even in winter when food is scarce. Maybe they weren't hungry enough, which I just refuse to believe because they were all very very skinny and to an average animal lover looked awful really.
    So yes, some dogs will hunt if they are presented with an opportunity, or if they are genetically more predisposed to it. But many, many would not and would prefer to scavange.
    Last edited by Fedra; 06-08-2011 at 07:46 PM.
    Respect and you shall be respected. Animal is always right.

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